There are many winemakers in Texas, some with many years of experience and others with less but who still have a passion for growing the Texas wine industry. One of these newer winemakers is Brad Cummins from Horn Winery. After reading his winemaker profile this month, you will be as excited as we are to visit Horn Winery to try his wines and talk about Texas!
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
Prior to my start in the wine industry, I was working in Dallas at a Guitar Center in sales, and as a freelance audio engineer since that is my vocation. I worked mostly church services, but I also was able to work some small venue shows in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The biggest shows I worked were for the Gas Monkey venues in Dallas, mostly as a stagehand, so I’d unload trailers and help set up the stage or tear it down after the show and reload the trailer so the artist could make their way to the next show.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
Elevated pH in fruit and fruit sourcing. Most people don’t understand that in Texas, it is common for fruit to be ripe but have pH levels in 3.8-4.0+ range, which is not ideal for making wine. We have learned a few methods to combat this, but it’s a never-ending game of tug-of-war. And since there are wineries continuing to open and others whose production is growing each year, the demand for fruit seems like it has outpaced the supply tremendously, but this could also be just my perspective on that matter, and previous years of harsh and erratic weather haven’t helped either.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
I think it’s a balance of both. Yes, science plays a huge part in making great wine, but an artistic approach is needed to make your wine stand out. Whether that approach is historically based or trying to fuse two different styles of wine together to make your own, I don’t think you can make wine without an artistic “vision.” I compare it to a chef making new recipes for their restaurants, or a musician preparing to record in a studio; there is a passion for the art of the craft, but also with a foundation of science that helps guide the way. If I wanted to have my wines highlight the characteristics of the terroir more than their varietal characteristics, that’s an artistic expression that is being showcased in the wine itself.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
I always enjoy trying new pairings, but I’m currently favoring Coq au Vin Blanc with a barrel aged Roussanne that has some MLF and bâtonnage on it, or a Gewürztraminer and spicy Chinese Sichuan dishes.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
Since it was my first career, I’d likely go back to being an audio engineer working concerts and live events. I may even be recording music or voiceover work for a studio somewhere. I haven’t done anything music related since I started my career in the wine industry, but I still look at new equipment, news in the music industry, and have a wish list for my own recording studio; it’s still a passion of mine. If not that, maybe go to the sales side of the wine industry. I’ve done sales before, and I enjoy educating people on wine, so they know what they’re drinking, or why they like what they like. This is important to me since in America, especially in Texas, the perception that the average consumer has of all wine is whatever we find on the shelves at the grocery store or bottle shop, and even then, it’s often bulk Napa wine people are familiar with. There’s nothing wrong with liking these wines, but not all reds are going to be Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and not all whites are heavy barrel-aged Chardonnay, and if I’m not making wine, I’d like to educate consumers on what we, as the Texas wine industry, have to offer.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
When I first started in the wine industry, I didn’t know anything about wine; I was just a cellar hand moving liquids and following orders. But when I began seeing the attention to detail, learning why we did what we did in the cellar, the creative decisions of how to make wine in different styles, it resonated with me because it reminded me about the creative decisions of making music in a recording studio. That made me appreciate the work I did more and want to grow in this industry and eventually be a winemaker. I have technically been a winemaker for two years, according to my job title, but August 2023 will mark six years that I have been in the industry making wine, and I don’t have any plans to leave the industry anytime soon. Maybe relocate somewhere, but we’ll see where the vines take me.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
Two common questions: “What’s your favorite wine?” and when I am describing wine to customers, “Oh, where’d you source the (insert non-grape fruit here)?” I love to educate people on wine and explain that not all wine is fruit infused, but more often than not, the flavors they taste and aromas they smell are all just factors of winemaking. And I appreciate wine for what it is and how it varies, but I don’t know if I could say I have a favorite.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
During most of the year, I normally relax at home with a glass of tea, listening to music or a podcast, and research either music or wine-related topics. I love to cook too, so I’m likely cooking too. I may sneak out to Austin or San Antonio for a concert if I really need to unwind. When it’s harvest season, there’s no rest for the wicked winemaker.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
The combination of history, science, and artistic liberty in making wine. The history of previous harvests, the science of what was done to previous vintages to achieve the desired goal for that year, the liberty of choosing what varietals to pick and what to do with them as a finished product (single varietal, blends, rosé, blush, etc.), it’s a great polymerization that makes me excited and always interested in winemaking.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
When I started in this industry, I didn’t know a drop of knowledge about wine or how it’s made. Fast forward to today, and I now have a passion for making wine that people enjoy. My philosophy for making Texas wine is to make wines that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of wine knowledge, and to make wines as close to their Old World counterparts as possible; understanding that terroir plays a limiting role in this, but I still want my wines to be able to hold their own against any of their European versions.
- Anything else you would like to add?
To the non-industry readers, keep an open mind and know that we are not California. We’re not “Napa Turned Texas” here, so understand you’re not going to find a Texas version of those large brands everyone knows. You’ll see many types of wines that you may have never heard of, so don’t hesitate to try them; you won’t know if you like it if you never try it. To my fellow industry people, it’s a great honor to work with you all and grow this industry and take it to the next level.